Press Release: Doomed badgers must not be trapped in bad weather


Badger Trust logoBADGER TRUST

Badgers could be trapped for hours inside cages in appalling winter weather conditions as a result of the Coalition’s desperate attempts to reach its killing target for the Gloucestershire pilot trial, says the Badger Trust. It is calling for assurances that no animals will be exposed to such unacceptable risk.

Until December 1st the animals, including some pregnant females, could be trapped in the open for up to 18 hours. Only free shooting could continue beyond this date [1]. The extension means that Defra’s own welfare guidelines are being broken, says the Trust, which is calling for assurances that no animals would be exposed to such unacceptable treatment.

Badger expert Dr Chris Cheeseman told the Trust that considerable local knowledge and field experience were necessary to decide when to stop trapping before the onset of wintry weather. People conducting trapping operations in the pilot cull areas would need to prove they had the necessary experience. He added that the companies contracted to do the killing would be under pressure to kill a high proportion of the population, and it was doubtful whether they would exercise due diligence in their efforts to catch as many badgers as possible.

Official reports and guidelines have repeatedly insisted on attention to welfare:

Scientists conducting the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trial took welfare into account in the design of methods. The 2007 report on the trial [2] said some trapping methods would entail suffering, and that meeting concerns over badger welfare was essential to the integrity of the trial, both as an experiment and as an assessment of a potential policy. This led to the concept of the “closed season” on all culling, from 1 February to 30 April (inclusive) every year, partly to avoid cubs starving underground if a lactating female was shot. In any event, cage trapping was known to be far less effective in the winter months. (Woodroffe,1995).

The Coalition’s Policy on Bovine TB and badger control in England (2011) says either “controlled shooting” or cage trapping and shooting can be used singly or in combination [3]. Since the former has now clearly failed cage trapping at an increasingly bad time of year is a greater possibility. The policy also says: “Both control methods must be carried out with due regard to animal welfare. For cage-trapping and shooting the badgers must not be left in cages for prolonged periods, or subjected to unacceptable climatic conditions.

Cage trapping for vaccination purposes is also limited. Defra’s Veterinary Guidelines on use of BadgerBCG [4] stipulated the closed seasons: between December 1st and April 30th inclusive in England. The guidelines say: “This is on welfare grounds to prevent trapping of lactating females with unweaned dependant cubs and to prevent exposure of badgers during adverse weather.

The Policy on Bovine TB and badger control in England also says [3]: “In the winter, the closed season aims to protect trapped badgers from poor weather conditions. In the spring, it aims to minimise the risk of removing lactating sows and so leaving dependent cubs underground. The timing of these seasons has been set using evidence from culling during the RBCT and expert ecological advice”.

A Natural England spokesman told the Western Daily Press [5] that the open season for cage trapping badgers ends two months before the one for controlled shooting (December 1 as opposed to February 1) to help to avoid exposing trapped badgers to severe weather conditions. The Government’s best practice guidelines recommended the suspension of trapping where there was a risk of extreme exposure. Licensed operators would be responsible for assessing the severity of the local weather conditions and whether the terrain offered shelter.


[2] Para 2.28
[3] Paras 5.38 and 5.43

Jack Reedy
0775 173 1107
01564 783129